Video Game Thoughts: Oregon Trail II

Oregon Trail II was a 1996 educational game by MECC for the PC. This game was hugely popular in schools when I was growing up. When I was really little, our school had the old green screen Apple IIe computers with the first Oregon Trail. A few years later, we got new Macintosh Performa computers at school along with Oregon Trail II. We actually had designated days where we had to play this game. The whole room ringed with the sound effects of this game, with a mass of old time songs from each computer drowning each other out. I always loved computer class. Everything was educational, but it was almost all games. Other than a few training exercises on basic computer usage and word processing, we never really had to do any work in that class.

I later was gifted Oregon Trail II from my aunt & uncle to play at home. Now, I could try out all the gameplay combinations to find which ones had the highest success rate. This game was a pretty good simulation of the real Oregon Trail. It was pretty hard to win on the first try. I quickly figured out the best choices to make in each situation. Then, it was pretty easy to win. Some of it was sort of cheating. I knew, for example, that doctors made a lot more money than teachers, so I’d always pick a doctor to be head of the wagon. I learned which skills were most commonly used on the trail, making sure at least one person in my wagon had one of them.

The game was really fun, but I would have liked a history book built-in to the game. They could have had a question mark (‘?’) button on all the screens in the game to give the player relevant historical information. I didn’t generally like history, but the game was fun enough that I would have read a few paragraphs here and there. Instead, the history was told directly to the player in conversations with trail guides, merchants, and soldiers. This is one of the things I loved about Age of Empires II. It had this huge history section about all the weapons, units, and factions in the game. Something like that would have been awesome here.

I got the Deluxe version of the game. It came with an extensive strategy guide and a documentary video on CD. It was pretty impressive to see this behind-the-scenes stuff. None of my other games had anything like this. The strategy guide was probably a good reference book, but I found everything I needed to know in the game itself.

I wish MECC was still making new versions of the game. Since Oregon Trail II, I think they have had trouble getting money. Most of the new Oregon Trail games have been simply re-releases of Oregon Trail II with a few slight modifications. I think they could do much better with the technology that’s available these days. They wouldn’t need any on-screen actors or real picture backgrounds; it could all be done in computer graphics.

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